Recipe Design for Brewers…Simplified (Part 2: Hops)

This series by Tom Ayres, explores recipe design. Brewing creativity and the factors that makes each beer style worthy of celebration. All segments in this series can be read here.

Now that we have a structure for our beer, we need to develop our recipe further to include the equally important ingredients of hops, yeast and water. In this article we’ll explore designing hop additions.

A quick review of our design plan…

As we discussed last time, we’re going to tackle beer recipe design in parts. You can embrace the whole series or take an “a la cart” approach if you already understand specific aspects. Here are the areas we will focus on, the four major components of beer; malt, hops, yeast and water.


Simplified Beer Recipe Design Part 2: Hops

Hops, “The Spice of Beer”

When it comes to beer recipe design, choosing hops to use can be a daunting task. I think its helpful to think of hops as providing two main functions;

  • Bitterness
  • Aroma & Intensity

As brewers we know that most beer recipes divide hops into bittering hops and aroma hops. Generally hop types are even classified this way. However, based on my experience it’s more about the timing and use of the hop additions. To keep things simple, think of hop additions this way: the earlier in the brewing process they are used, the more they contribute to hop bitterness, the later they are used, the more they contribute to aroma.

This is pretty basic stuff for most brewers. The difficult part in recipe design is determining how to choose the right flavors and aromas. Both are important since the combination of both determines how we taste something. Looking over many of my favorite brewing sources, I settled on these primary flavors/aromas, grouping to help you choose.


  • Fruity
  • Citrus
  • Floral
  • Herbal
  • Spicy
  • Earthy
  • Evergreen

If you know what flavors/aromas you want, reference any of the multitude of free hop guides to choose the hop(s) you want. On the other hand, if you are struggling with what hops to choose, let’s look to some award winning recipes from past NHC competitions. From Ray Daniel’s classic book, Designing Great Beers: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles we can learn much about choosing the best hops for our recipes.

This approach takes into consideration both bitterness and flavors/aromas from groups of successful competition beers. Incorporating these two parameters into our recipe designs should prove useful.

A BJCP/Classic Styles design approach to choosing hops

As we discussed in the last article, one of my favorite brewing books is Jamil Zainasheff and John Palmer’s book, Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew. The book provides guidance and recipes for brewing classic beer styles organized by the 2008 BJCP Categories. Last time we looked at malts used in various BJCP Category recipes. Here are the hop selections referenced in the book:

This approach includes the specific hops used with each style recipe category, along with the flavors/aromas. Keep in mind that if you were seeking to make a specific style, you would need to drill-down to the specific recipes in Jamil and John’s book. This approach is simply providing a broad palette of hops and their flavors/aromas to consider for your recipe designs.

Other modern hops to consider

In recent years, hops from New Zealand and Australia have become very popular given their unique flavors and aromatics. New hops from America offer uniqueness as well. These modern hops could turn a good beer into a great one…if used appropriately. Here’s some help in deciding which to choose:

Using these approaches to build on our example beer…

In Part 1 we started developing a black beer, probably a Porter. We envisioned something that features chocolate, coffee and graham cracker flavors. Here’s our proposed grain-bill:

According to BeerSmith, here’s what our Black Beer looks like:

Now that we have a backbone for our beer, we need to develop this recipe further to include the hops, add some spices if you will. If we look to the first approach above, our pallet of flavors and aromas for a Porter include Floral, Spicy, Earthy, Evergreen, Fruity, Citrus, Herbal. From my experience with Porters I like, I think we should focus on Spicy first and foremost. Then let’s add some Herbal, and Floral flavors/aromas to further compliment our recipe malts. There are a lot of hops that feature these flavors, so after some research we might choose these:

  • Nugget (Spicy & Herbal)
  • Crystal (Floral & Spice)
  • Willamette (Floral & Spice)

If we were to follow the BJCP approach above instead, we might consider a smaller group of flavors/aromas, excluding Floral, Evergreen and Herbal flavors/aromas. For discussion purposes, we’ll stay with our choices of hops. Nugget hops are considered a good bittering hop, so we’ll bitter with those and use Crystal and Willamette in equal parts for aroma. The first hopping approach above suggests bitterness levels of 39-53 IBUs. To offset the heavy chocolate maltiness of our grain-bill, let’s shoot for the high-end of the suggested bitterness range. Plugging the hops into my brewing software at 60, 20 and 5 minutes, this is where we land:

So here’s where our updated Porter recipe now stands…

Hold on, we’re still not finished!

Now that we have structure and spice for our beer, we still need to develop this recipe further to include the equally important ingredients of yeast and water. Stay tuned for the next recipe design episode where we’ll explore choosing the right yeast for our beer designs. Good brewing!

Leave a Reply